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November 15, 1980: I’m the bleedin’ volcano!

I thought I had blogged this AT40 already, but a search through the archives does not turn it up. It’s just sitting there burning a hole in my hard drive, so I guess I’ll put it on and see what I think. I’m not doing much else on a dark and clammy Friday night.

Edit: Where was I in or around November 15, 1980? I was in this picture. Good luck finding me:

2525875123_2937c63de8_c(1)

Here goes. Favorites in bold, as always, if there are any:

Casey recaps the previous week’s top three: “He’s So Shy” by the Pointer Sisters, “Lady” by Kenny Rogers, and “Woman In Love” by Barbra Streisand — which I totally failed to recognize at first play. Haven’t heard it in a long, long time. What is this November 1980 place I’m stepping into?

Anyway: There are six new songs this week, and here’s the first.

No. 40: Don Williams with his first country-pop crossover, “I Believe In You.” Not quite gonna bold it, but by the end of the first verse and chorus, I am once again doffing my cap to the uniquely sly Nashville art of songwriting. Something tells me things are gonna get much, much worse than this before we get to Number One.

No. 39, also debuting: Nielsen Pearson, “If You Should Sail.” Yes, I had to go to Wiki to verify how to spell Nielsen Pearson. No memory of this song either, but boy, it goes down smoothly, like Kahlua and cream. So much so that I almost want to bold it.

String synth! Flugelhorn (I think)! Man, this jawn is … inoffensive. I’m enjoying this way too much. Now I’m imagining Neilsen Pearson and the Sanford-Townsend Band tearing it up together. I think it’s high time we moved on to …

No. 38: Casey shouts out the good listeners of 5KA, Adelaide, South Australia. Debuting this week, a four-man British band called the Vapors with “Turning Japanese.”

Pushing aside the cult reputation of the song (is it really about wanking?), I almost bolded this one, on the grounds that it has just a tiny bit of rock n’ roll drive, and the 37 songs to come probably won’t have any of that. But then I heard the Oriental Riff and said, “Naw, dude. Not bolding that business.”

No. 37: The newest hit from a superstar who becomes the second woman of the rock era to have three hits on the Forty at the same time.

(Apparently Gale Storm was the first; I woulda guessed Melanie did it at some point, but I must be misremembering. Casey mentions that Gale Storm is now doing TV testimonials for a hospital for alcoholics. 1980 was hard on a lot of people.)

Anyway, it’s Diana Ross. Debuting this week is “It’s My Turn.” The best thing I can say about this tune, and the lead-up to it, is that it makes me know that two big-time jams are coming in the next 36 toons.

No. 36: Billy Joel with the fourth hit off Glass Houses, “Sometimes A Fantasy.” Beej goes all new wave, with choked guitars and choked vocals, and like most of his pastiches, it’s quite pleasurable. This one loses points mainly because it’s not his Elvis Costello pastiche, “Sleeping With the Television On.” Oh, yeah, the implications of long-distance wanking don’t score high with the East German judge either.

Hey, y’know, was 1980 Billy Joel the best Billy Joel? Quite possibly. But on we sweep to …

No. 35, debut: There’s a cut in my copy of the show, as Casey says, “The Australian act Air Supply–” and then we’re into the lyrics of a song that turns out to be “Every Woman in the World.” It’s big and foursquare and obvious and heartfelt and I don’t need to hear it again.

(Oddly, the cut portion of Casey’s introduction shows up once the song is over. What?)

No. 34, up five: Casey tells a story about how John Cougar was blackmailed into using his stage name. Unfortunately, what we’re hearing is not the storming “I Need a Lover,” but the inferior “This Time.”

I dunno — I give Mr. Mellencamp a couple points for cred and sheer stubbornness, but in this case, it doesn’t make up for the uninspiring contents of the vinyl.

No. 33: 35-year-old Carly Simon (Casey’s mention, not mine) down 22 spots with “Jesse.” I would be lying if I said I didn’t kinda enjoy the buildup that leads to the guitar solo. I would also be lying if I said I enjoyed much of the rest of it. I dunno — once Carly consorted with James Bond, all her other lovers became just side streets in a slow stretch.

From the AT40 Archives: Another of the Number One songs of the Sixties. Oh, great, we’re up to October 1962, and we get “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett. Nuh-uh.

No. 32, up six: A Top Five hit in England over the summer: The Korgis, “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime.” Boy, there’s a lot of music from this window of time that I’ve blanked out. Other than the hottest guzheng playing of this or any other year, there’s not a lot to stick in the mind about this one. Man, could that wall of stringy synth in the background be any more overpowering?

No. 31, up six: Casey plays a bit of the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” to show the audience what Randy Meisner sounded like then — as if he sounded that much different four years later as a solo artist on “Deep Inside My Heart.” Something about the chorus — the skipping beat, the particular lay of the chords — reminds me of “Running On Empty,” which is a positive connotation. But still, no bold.

No. 30, up four: Waylon Jennings, “Theme from ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.'” As I think I’ve mentioned, the Dukes were a formative part of my childhood; I watched them every week, and so did all my friends. (See? You can blame Fred Silverman and his compadres for my essential vapidity. Perhaps if all we’d had to watch was Upstairs, Downstairs, I’d be a much more worthwhile person.)

Anyway, adult me says the Dukes were shallow shite, and so is their song. Cut-off jean-shorts, anybody? On to:

A reader asks about artists born in Asia who have hit the Top 40. Yup, Casey checks the atlas and the files and comes up with 10 people: Kyu Sakamoto and Pink Lady; Cliff Richard and Engelbert Humperdinck, born in India; and the Rocky Fellers, who hit with “Killer Joe” in 1963, from the Philippines and China.

No. 29: Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb with the highest-debuting song in the countdown, “Guilty.” Hell, yes, this languid bit of super-smoothness gets boldface. This song pats Nielsen Pearson on the head and says, “Learn from us, and maybe in 10 years you’ll be truly worthy.” Can I get 28 more highways to the sky?

No. 28: Jimmy Hall, up three notches, “I’m Happy that Love Has Found You.” This is not the Jimmie Hall who played outfield for the Minnesota Twins, but rather the Jimmy Hall who used to sing for Wet Willie, pulling enough Michael McDonald mojo on his falsetto to make it into the Forty. This is another member of the 1980 White Russian fraternity — so smooth, so creamy, so easily met, but not good enough to make you forget that bourbon and rye exist.

No. 27: Casey tells a story about Michael McDonald involving aluminum crutches, a puddle of beer, a fraternity party, and a nonsense song called “Hot Pastrami.” This anecdote is chiefly notable as one of the rare occasions I can remember of Casey outright breaking into laughter, even if he’s faking.

This leads into the Doobie Brothers’ “Real Love,” and my God, is it plastic and packaged and 10,000 miles away from fraternity parties and puddles of beer. All of a sudden, that pleasant 1980 sense of being encased in a benign solid material a la Han Solo begins to seem distinctly oppressive. There is nothing real about this love.

No. 26, second week: Rolling Stones, “She’s So Cold.” One of my least fave Stones toons, ever, anywhere. Repetitive and paint-by-numbers and annoying. It doesn’t even modulate up.

No. 25, dropping from No. 10: “Upside Down” by Diana Ross. This is fire and I will brook no argument. My only beef here is that Casey talks over the chicka-chicka instrumental opening that’s pure Nile Rodgers. (Hey, between Barry Gibb and Rodgers-Edwards, the heroes of the late ’70s are really delivering the goods this week.)

Coming up: A long-distance dedication. Aw, hell.

No. 24: Roger Daltrey, star of the upcoming movie “McVicar,” has his first AT40 solo hit, “Without Your Love.” Daltrey’s got the mandolin market cornered, anyway. Up three. I paused this and went upstairs and made myself something resembling a White Russian. I’ll regret it tomorrow. It’s not tomorrow yet.

Long-Distance Dedication from a kid named Steve in somewhere in Indiana to a girl named Pam whose smile makes his stomach drop through the floor, but can’t tell her. (The lad seems to think Pam can’t tell how crazy in love with her he is, which suggests a certain teenage lack of basic intelligence.)

Anyway, he asks for Barry Manilow’s drama-soaked “Could It Be Magic,” which is actually not wholly bad, and is the second Manilow tune I would pick if I had to pick any one — the first, natch, being “Weekend in New England,” because goddamned New England. Good luck anyway, lad.

No. 23: Casey calls out WGH, Hampton-Norfolk-Newport News, Virginia (Hampton comes alive!), then plays Stacy Lattisaw’s “Let Me Be Your Angel.” It’s not horribly gross, and it’s got that narcotizing 1980 string-synth going, but it doesn’t move me.

From the archives, another Number One song from the Sixties. From November 1962, “He’s a Rebel,” the Crystals. No thanks.

No. 22: 32-year-old Jackson Browne holds steady for the second week in a row with “That Girl Could Sing.” I would be challenged to explain why I love this; but, I do. The stop-start riff seems to hover on the edge of great chasms. And then there’s the longing, the timeless longing, like Steve in Indiana probably feels for Pam with the breathtaking smile to this very day.

(In an ur-Late Seventies album credit that would make Becker and Fagen proud, Russ Kunkel is credited with drums on this song, while Rick Marotta is credited with high-hat and tom-toms. I have no idea who did what, or why it took two first-call session pros to produce a percussion track that either one of them could have generated on his own. There was record-company money involved, and Porsches, and probably White Russians. All the poets studied rules of verse. Those were different times.)

No. 21, up nine spots, second week on: Bruce Springsteen, “Hungry Heart.” Bruce’s first Top Ten single, featuring a luminescent Hammond organ solo by the late great Danny “The Phantom” Federici. Everybody, including Jackson Browne, has a hu-uh-hungry heart.

No. 20, a former Number One country song: The latest pop hit by a country superstar, blah, blah, blah. It’s Willie Nelson with “On The Road Again.” I can’t hate an American original getting paid — just like I used to respect the game when I heard B.B. King in the lower reaches of AT40 countdowns from 1972-73 — but I can live without the song itself.

On a related note: My parents were devoted Plymouth buyers for a while, and I remember our family once receiving some sort of Chrysler promo magazine in the mail that had an article about Willie Nelson and his Texas “family.” What the hell it had to do with minivans in 1984 I had no idea, but I still remember it, so it must have pushed a button.

Up two to No. 19: Irene Escalera, a.k.a. Irene Cara, with “Out Here On My Own.” Her second Top Forty hit. More and bigger would come. This is not actually horrible, and Ms. Cara airs out her lungs in classic drama-club fashion, but no bold.

No. 18: Christopher Cross, up six with his “third giant hit in a row,” “Never Be The Same.” Someone has probably written a really good case study of Christopher Cross — how he went from inescapable to despised in about a year-and-a-half — and I’ll read it if I ever find it. As for the evidence on hand, Mr. Cross was much more memorable and catchy and irresistible in other settings.

(You know what might help? Imagine in your mind that Christopher Cross was actually Carl Wilson enjoying richly deserved solo success, and substitute Wilson’s more pleasant and flexible butter-rich upper register for Cross’s. Suddenly it makes a lot more sense. Another White Russian, s’il vous plait.)

No. 17: From the upcoming movie The Jazz Singer, here’s Neil Diamond with “Love on the Rocks.” After a couple of stiff ones, the line “Pour me a drink / And I’ll tell ya some lies” certainly resonates.

And, y’know what? I can’t totally hate Neil Diamond. He did his thing, and it might have been schlocky. But he was true to his own popcraft, and that furious, soaring, ragged-around-the-edges baritone wipes a lot of stupidity off the slate.

Not gonna go so far as to bold him … but bless yer, Neil Diamond. You do your thing. Sing it like it hurts you.

(One of seven songs from movie soundtracks on this week’s countdown, the Caser says.)

No. 16: Pat Benatar with her third Top 40 hit, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” Never been a huge fan, even though I can’t deny the huge hooks. I vaguely remember some sort of parody from back in the day (even though I can’t remember the payoff line), and this seems like one of these records that someone like Weird Al was just born to tee off on.

No. 15, second week in that spot: A song that first appeared on Supertramp’s 1974 Crime of the Century album, but didn’t become a hit until the band released a live version. Supertramp holding at No. 15 with a live version of “Dreamer.”

Confession time: While I profess to loathe Supertramp, “Dreamer” is not at all a bad song. And the cover art of Crime of the Century — a forsaken pair of hands gripping a set of cell bars at the end of the universe — has always captivated my imagination in a way I suspect the actual contents of the record would not, if I ever gave it the courtesy of listening.

Anyway: Great song; I don’t need a live version; but if it took a live version to bring it to the attention of Main Street America, then sure, why not.

No. 14: Casey calls out WHLN, Harlan, Kentucky. Up three this week, Devo, “Whip It.” I dislike this song, and I intensely dislike Devo, whom I consider to be 99.9 percent high-flown self-important concept and 0.1 percent actual music.

One side of me says that I should be pleased to see such a non-commercial enterprise as Devo landing in Caseyland. But I can’t get over my general revulsion to the whole de-evolution trip.

No. 13, up five: Daryl Hall and John Oates, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.” Hard to totally oppose … but once you’ve heard Telly Savalas intone, “Baby! Somethin’ beautiful’s dyin’!” all other versions are superfluous.

No. 12: The Jacksons, “Lovely One.” Anything Michael touched in this time period is worth hearing, even relatively minor work such as this. Ah, for the days when he was socially acceptable, and funky as hell.

No. 11: Casey tells the story of how Cliff Richard negotiated a compromise between his music and his God. Casey repeats the advice Billy Graham gave Cliff with a believer’s fervor: “Rock isn’t bad — it’s only what people do with the music that’s evil.”

I was totes hoping for “We Don’t Talk Anymore” but instead we get “Dreaming,” which is not nearly as good or memorable. (If you need a New Wavey song called “Dreaming,” check out Blondie’s instead.)

From the AT40 Archives: the 60th Number One single of the 1960s, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons. If I had enough booze to tell you what this song really makes me think of, I wouldn’t be able to type. Let’s just leave it there.

No. 10: The song climbing 22 notches in just three weeks — the biggest jump in the countdown — John Lennon with “Starting Over.” I didn’t realize the head Beatle was so popular before his untimely passing; I guess America must have been hungry for anything with Lennon’s name on it after his five-year absence from the pop scene.

It is hugely dispiriting to imagine Casey’s listeners on November 15, 1980, tuned in cozily to the latest hits from coast to coast, bopping up and down to the hits, not realizing that the familiar figure at Number 10 has three more weeks to live. I’ll try not to think about it.

As for the tune itself, it’s OK, but my late-life Lennon of choice is either “Nobody Told Me” or “Woman.” (Any remaining Yoko Ono haters should be reminded that she inspired that glorious song, and told to shut up and sit down.)

No. 9, up five: Casey name-drops WHWB in Rutland, Vermont, where the kid I roomed with in summer nerd camp circa 1985 grew up. As for the chart, it’s Leo Sayer with “More Than I Can Say.” Bland and anodyne and perfect for November 1980. Yawn.

A listener — Mike French of Liverpool, New York, in the Syracuse area — asks whether any first-time hitmakers have ever had the top hit of the year. Turns out it’s happened 10 times in the past 25 years, the Caser reports. Those who have managed it: Prez Prado, Domenico Modugno, Bobby Lewis, Acker Bilk, Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, The Beatles, Sam the Sham etc., Staff Sgt Barry Sadler, the Captain and Tennille, and the Knack.

No. 8, down 5 after three weeks at No. 3: The Pointer Sisters, “He’s So Shy.” The synth-first production reminds me of the Doobie Brothers, which was probably all 1980 America needed to win it over.

No. 7: Stevie Wonder, “Master Blaster.” Casey talks all over the funky percussive intro. OK, this is not in the top rank of Stevie hits, but I abide by the unwritten rule that anything Stevie must be granted the highest honor.

Another long-distance dedication, in which Casey burns a bunch of time and hits on All The Feelings. This is from an American serviceman in Germany whose wife is in Arizona. He asks for “Love Will Keep Us Together.”

I am torn between the cynical answer — of course she’s already shagging someone else — and the hopeful answer — of course the bright shining intangible thread we call Love will work its incomprehensible miracles for we mortals. I cannot help but wish a happy ending against the real-world odds for the gob and his squab, as Cole Porter put it. Young and beautiful, someday your looks will be gone

No. 6: Stephanie Mills, up one with “Never Knew Love Like This Before.” The proverbial little girl with the big voice, and sure, why not.

Hey, how do you suppose John Anderson spent the week of November 15, 1980 — the week after he learned his off-kilter knuckleballed hope to become POTUS would indeed have not a chance in hell? I mean, the weeping was over at that point. Dude probably spent the week reviewing his cash statements and deciding which debtors were gonna get paid off first.

None of which as the damnedest thing to do with Stephanie Mills, I suppose.

No. 5: That third hit from Diana Ross, “I’m Coming Out.” I dunno as I really like this enough to bold it, but it sure has been a while since I bolded anything. How many Top Ten hits’ Wiki entries have separate sections for “LGBT significance” and “Trombone solo“?

No. 4: A former Number One, Queen with “Another One Bites The Dust.” I should probably bold this. The fact that I’ve heard it a million times shouldn’t dull its impact as edgy, spacey, earwormy funk from a talented band reinventing itself.

(Are these really the same guys who did “Killer Queen”? It’s like James Bond parachuting into a new adventure. Speaking of which, how come no one ever nominated Queen to do a Bond theme?)

No. 3: Donna Summer, “The Wanderer.” Another song I had no memory of. What even is this? Who bought it? Who said, “This is really fantastic and I need to hear it three times an hour”? Is this even really a song or just some kind of joke on the part of some 21st-century prankster?

No. 2: Casey tells the story of Barry Gibb and brothers suing former manager Robert Stigwood for $200 million. (Stigwood countersued for $300 million.) “The biggest pair of lawsuits in rock history,” Casey says.

Anyway, “Woman in Love” by Barbra Streisand — produced by Barry Gibb — is Number 2, down from Number One. A grand sweeping ballad and, truly, I cannot hate it; the diva-ism is strong. It sweeps away all before it.

Tops of the other Billboard charts: Soul chart, “Master Blaster.” Country chart, “Could I Have This Dance” by Anne Murray. Album chart, The River by Bruce Springsteen.

No. 1: A man who started cutting records 24 years ago but has never been at the top until now: Kenny Rogers, “Lady.” Rogers’ phlegmy delivery is all too familiar from my youth overhearing the radio, but I do not need to revisit it. Ah, well.

8 responses »

  1. Interesting. 40 years ago… I actually remember about half of the songs. And it did take me a bit to find you in your white sweater…

    Reply
  2. As someone who has also listened to AT40 while drinking and then wrote about it, I enjoyed this very much and I recommend the method. On this show, Casey is in error and you are correct: Melanie had three songs in the 40 at one time, “Brand New Key,” “Ring the Living Bell,” and “The Nickel Song” during the week of February 26, 1972.

    I never would have found you had Bood not offered a hint.

    Reply
  3. A few years ago, after discovering a collection of AT40 episodes online, I burned CDs for my mom with the episode from the first weekend after I was born. Great gift idea.

    Reply
  4. A year before this LDD, I was also a teenager with a crush on a girl named Pam. Unlike Steve, I did manage to overcome my nerves and call her on the phone (we didn’t go to the same school). It never went anywhere but later on she did wind up being my junior prom date.

    Excellent post; you do these up well. (I had guessed 4th row, third from left–sounds like I’m 50-50 on being right.)

    Reply
    • Thank you — I don’t usually imbibe quite so heavily while writing; it was that sort of night.

      I’m the boy in white in the second row from the bottom.

      Also, congrats on having the fortitude to actually call your Pam on the phone. Most boys, me included, can’t make ourselves do that.

      Reply

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